In the Midst of COVID-19, Let’s Remember that Housing is Healthcare

Apartment building exterior

When I start thinking about the concerns surrounding COVID-19, the first thing that comes to mind is housing and homelessness. As a formerly homeless person, this is hardly surprising. I worry about my homeless friends, about my sheltered friends and about my housed friends. In three months, I worry that they won’t be housed anymore. I worry they will get sick, and their sickness will turn to homelessness.

Although I have no immediate threat to my housing, I can’t help but feel anxious. I worry that, somehow, that could be me, too – again. This is no exaggeration. Remember friends, even without an epidemic such as this, it only takes one missed paycheck, one death in the family, one hospital stay, one tragedy to end up homeless. It doesn’t take much, and right now, there’s a whole lot up against us. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of confusion. We’re slow to act, and we’re running out of time.

Now more than ever we need proper housing for homeless people.

We have homeless New Yorkers in tightly-packed shelters where the coronavirus can spread rapidly. All homeless New Yorkers should be moved to safe, quality housing as quickly as possible. There’s no simpler way to put it – many will die otherwise.

Dorm-style singles shelters are especially at risk of this. But even family shelters are incredibly overcrowded. Take Park View, an adult families’ shelter in Harlem as an example. When my husband and I resided there in 2017, I was sick off and on for eight months. If it wasn’t the flu, it was an ear infection, or an eye infection. I wonder if I would have survived COVID-19 if I were still living in that shelter.

The harsh reality is I probably wouldn’t have – not with both a heart condition and asthma coupled with depression and a weak immune system from stress and lack of an adequate diet.

It is immoral to allow our homeless New Yorkers to suffer through this. As mentioned in “Forget Getting Sick – Am I Going to be Homeless Again?”, the city of New York has temporarily halted evictions to prevent the inevitable influx of homelessness and keep housed people housed.

It’s time to realize that housing IS healthcare.

If we are to accept that housing is required to keep us safe and healthy and will save lives then we must also realize that an eviction moratorium is not enough. Sure, it’s the first step. It’s critical that every housed person remains housed. But it will not be enough.

I can’t stress this enough, friends. When the eviction moratorium is lifted, every household that has experienced a loss of income will be sinking under three months of living expenses. With so many Americans already living paycheck to paycheck, this is simply unacceptable.

Forgiving rent and mortgage debt accumulated during this period will help keep New Yorkers in their homes and stabilize our economy and our state. If our state legislative leaders do not implement an immediate cancellation on rent, we must consider a rent strike.

Rent Strike to Prevent Homelessness

This would be a good time to be both in communication with your landlord, as well as your neighbors. Although it is necessary to communicate your concerns to your landlord, as someone who has had her fair share of bad landlords, I imagine your landlord is probably not your friend. The reality is your landlord will most likely get through this, while you may not. Property owners have had, and always had more protections in comparison to renters.

Now more than ever, renters will suffer.

In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo has swooped in to help homeowners out during the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, he has yet to issue any rent relief for tenants. Renters make up nearly half the state’s households and are already more likely to pay more than one-third of their income on housing compared to homeowners. Yet they have not received such payment relief from the state amid mass lay-offs.

Cuomo has suspended eviction proceedings indefinitely in New York, though even that moratorium has a loophole that has allowed landlords to file hundreds of new eviction cases against tenants.

Cea Weaver, a campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, a tenants’ rights group in New York says, “We need rent relief—in the form of canceled rent, for the duration of the crisis—now. Cuomo can do this by executive order, and he must.”

Now is the time to come together to protect yourself and your neighbors. Now is the time to organize and exhaust your efforts in community development and support. It is now time to talk and listen to your homeless friends, to check in, and discover ways to help. We must come together. Our voices are louder in unison.

The Philadelphia Tenants Union has provided a detailed guide for all new organizers during the COVID-19 crisis. Please familiarize yourself with these details before proceeding to rent strike.

Photo courtesy of Niklas Herrmann on Unsplash


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Jocelyn Figueroa

     

Jocelyn Figueroa studied Creative Non-Fiction at The New School and is a blogger and freelance writer based out of New York City. Formerly homeless, she launched her own blog discussing shelter life in New York City. Today, Jocelyn is on a mission to build connections through storytelling and creative writing. Check out her book about homelessness at https://ko-fi.com/scartissueproject

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